I think it was in the late nineties when I first came across the concept of the freedom ship: a floating city that allowed its passenger/citizens to live their whole lives independent of any nation state. Some of the designs were for ships more than twice the size of any ship ever built with runways large enough for long-haul airliners built along the top of them. In case the size of the ship wasn’t sufficient warning of the hubris driving the concept, one of the freedom ship concept’s early advocates changed his name from Howard Turney to Prince Lazarus Long after the immortal hero of several novels by libertarian author Robert A Heinlein.
Turney was slightly more realistic than many of his fellow advocates in that he was trying to build his New Utopia in an area of shallow sea in the Caribbean rather than on a giant ship, although he died in 2012 without either building New Utopia or achieving his even less practical goal of immortality through human growth hormone injections.
The idea of the freedom ship, or of seasteading as it’s sometimes called, did not die with him although the giant cruise liner / aircraft carrier hybrids remain a twinkle in the eye of the would-be freedom shippers.
But it got me thinking.
I found myself wondering about the the libertarian utopian dream that drives Prince Lazarus’s fellow travellers. A dream which, when I thought about it, I came to see was the logical endpoint of libertarian thinking or simply of turning the free market into an ideology, which has been a pervasive line of thinking since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher first heard of Chicago School economics.
Living our lives free of the rule of nation or law sounds great until we find ourselves in need of the protection of the law. That’s not just personal protection: law underpins every business transaction that we enter into. There’s no point in entering into a contract when there’s no way to enforce it.
Being a cumbersome and malleable instrument, the law cannot be relied on to enforce contracts as it is. A large firm typically has a number of ways to avoid paying a small firm if it chooses to use them, and the small firm is likely to go bankrupt before the opening shots in any ensuing legal battle have been fired.
Whether its advocates state it or not, a libertarian utopia like a freedom ship would take that process a step further by removing the rule of law altogether. It’s likely to appeal to the sort of people who can depend on their personal resources for protection. People wealthy enough to take private security and medicine for granted rather than depending on state-run services like the police and the sort of public healthcare that exists in every wealthy nation save one. And once they take their substantial capital away from inconveniences like taxes and lawsuits, what’s to stop them sucking the rest of us dry?
The only limit to their wealth and freedom would be each other. And from that thought grew the tale of murder and intrigue on the freedom ship Ayn Rand. What else would they call her?